The following article, published originally in the Scientific American Supplement (28 November 1903) is as good an overview of the process of hook making as you're likely to find. It really is well done. It is called "Fish Hooks of Many Kinds."
At a recent meeting of the Anglers‘ Association of Onondaga, George Barnes Wood, of Syracuse, read a paper on “Fish Hooks." Among other things he said:
Primeval man hooked and caught fish by the aid of numerous devices, the most important of which were gorges made of bronze or stone. The latter consisted of pieces of stone about an inch in length with a groove in the middle for a line. One of these gorges, a relic of the Stone Age, has been discovered in France and is about eight thousand years old. When swallowed by the fish, it turned across the fish's gullet and held it secure.
After stone, bronze was used. and then bone. The early Indians used bone, thorns and antlers, and later improvised hooks made from hand forged nails.
The saying of Amos in the Old Testament established the fact that fish hooks have been used nearly 2,700 years. lie says, "The days shall come upon you, that he will take you away with hooks, and your posterity with fish hooks." (Amos iv., 2.)
It has been stated that the best quality of hooks are made in this country and that the imported hooks are inferior in temper and durability. The facts are simply reversed. There has been but one factory in the United States that ever made the attempt to compete with the imported hooks, and it gained a fine reputation for turning out hooks which were compared to pin hooks, with the exception of their having a barb.
The reason why Americans do not manufacture as good hooks as those imported is the same as why we cannot make needles. We lack the experience in tempering, and, until recent years, have been unable to make steel to compare with that of England, Germany, and France.
There are over two hundred different sorts of hooks. each having from twenty to thirty sizes, among which may be mentioned:
Eyed, Flatted, Ringed, Tapered, Turndown eye. Knobbed, Spiral eye, Kirby, Limerick, Kendall, Sneck bent, Pennell turndown eye, Cholmondeley Pennell, Gravitation cod, Double brazed, Double black or japanned, Double brazed live bait, Lip hooks, Mansen treble, Double reversed Limerick, Round bent sea hooks, Harwich sea hooks, Exeter, Shark, Carlisle, Cincinnati bass, New York bass, New York trout. Perfect trout, Perfect bass, Halibut, Mackerel, Dog, Roach, Hake, Mackensie, Baiting hook, Central draught, Indiana bass, Kensey, Blackfish, Sheepshead, Whiting, Virginia, Chestertown, 0’Shaughnessy, Aberdeen, Sproat, Bayonet point, Spear point, Hollow point, Needle point, Double, Treble, Quadruple, Double safety pin, Norway, Yankee, Pothook, Weedless, Sockdolager, Automatic, Round bend, Pennsylvania, Salmon, Crystal.
Yankee inventions on fish hooks have been numerous, but little attention has been given to efforts to change the shape. I have examined the United States Patent Office reports and find 119 patents were granted on fish hooks from the year 1872 to 1903, an average of about four each year. The banner year was in 1899, their being fourteen patents issued. Nearly all patents have been on the principle of the “snap-and-catch’em" order, none of which appeals to the true angler.
The Kirby is the oldest steel hook made in England. its name is derived from its inventor, a Mr. Kirby, of London. Samuel Allcock, of Redditch, England, writes me that he remembers the appearance of the Kirby hook sixty-five years ago. This hook has a curve in the body, is commonly called a bent hook and does not lie fiat on a level surface.
The Limerick follows next in order. It is a straight hook and lies flat on the level. The bend is more acute and the barb a trifle longer than on the Kirby hook. it was made in Limerick, Ireland; hence its name.
Shortly after it came out, a Mr. Philips, of Dublin, Ireland, made a slight alteration of the point. instead of a straight point, he causedthe point to stand out; he also made it not quite so long, hence the name "Dublin Limerick.” His claim was that upon striking the fish it was more sure of hooking him.
The Kendall hook was first made in Kendall, England, whence its name. It has an almost square bottom and is bent like the Kirby, the shank being about the same length.
Carlisle hooks were first made at Carlisle, England. They have a round bend and lie fiat. Later they were manufactured at Kirby and given a bend and were termed “Carlisle Kirby," which shape is mostly used in this country and called Carlisle.
Barbless hooks have been used by the Japanese for centuries. They are much used by fish breeders in order to avoid injuring the fish when taken from the water to be stripped of spawn and milt for the hatchery.
When Seth Green was in charge of the New York State Fish Hatchery at Caledonia, he made the assertion that more fish could be caught and saved by barbless hooks than any other. He gave me a few to try and taught me how to make them, which was by using the best steel needles. First we annealed them and then bent them around a form which was like a Carlisle, only the point was a trifle higher.
I made over one hundred, which were distributed among my angling friends as an experiment. The results were the same. On small trout, which could be quickly landed, it worked admirably, but for bass, pike, and pickerel it was a failure, as the reports showed a loss of six per cent of fish hooked.
H. Cholmondeley-Pennell. of London, was formerly inspector of Sea Fisheries of England. The eyed trout hook was perfected by him in 1885, and, strange to say, it is almost a new hook to the angling fraternity in the United States.
It is used extensively in England, especially for flies, as they are much easier to carry and with little practice are quickly changed from one kind to ,another on the leader. i consider the draft better than any other kind. The Limerick style combines the three great requisites of penetration, holding power. and flotation, or the general contour of the shank.
Double hooks originated centuries ago. They are said to have been used before the single hook. Many millions of double hooks are now utilized in this country for the manufacture of spoon baits. gangs, and inventions to represent fish.
More than a century has passed since any attempt has been made to improve the eye. One manufacturer has lately been granted a patent on double interchangeable hooks. The shank is arranged like a safety pin. its advantages are: It can be attached and detached iii a second; it can be made in single or treble hook as well.
The sproat hook is undoubtedly one of the best known and most universally used hooks throughout the United States. It has been termed by some the hogback, as it has that appearance when laid on its point.
It has gained a world-Wide reputation on account of its admirable form, having a beautiful curve, and penetrating power is very near correct because the pull is nearly in the direction of the point. it also has the advantage of being less liable to break than any other on account of its general construction, together with the size of the wire used.
The wire used in hook making is the best English cast steel, which must be first quality—otherwise it will not temper properly—the gage or size varying according to the requirements of the hook to be made.
First—The operator takes a part of a coil of wire in his hand and places the ends in a gage, and the correct length being arrived at, he quickly and sharply cuts them into lengths with a large pair of shears.
Second—Bearding. A number of wires thus prepared are arranged on a plane surface, with their right-hand ends against an upright. The barb, or beard, is then cut by means of a hollow-ground knife which, being pressed forward and deftly turned by the hand of the workman, opens the barb to the required angle, great care having to be exercised in this operation to avoid cutting too deep or opening too wide, or the barb breaks when used.
Third—Filing. The points are now carefully filed. Using a pair of tongs made specially to hold the wire and rapidly turning the same a point is filed on instantly, forming either what is termed a hollow, Kirby, or Dublin point. All best hooks are filed this way by hand, thus giving to the point three or four knifelike cutting edges, enabling it to penetrate much more quickly than the less expensive needle pointed hook.
Fourth—Bending. It is now necessary to give the hook its form, and for this purpose the workman holds a mold fashioned like the pot hook of our copybooks, mounted on a wooden handle. With one deft movement the beard is hooked around the shorter end. and a quick turn brings the shank straight with the shank of the mold.
Fifth—By the aid of an ingenious machine, or hammer, the end of the shank is either ringed, flatted or marked. if intended for salmon or trout flies it is filed to a delicate point, or knobbed.
Sixth—Process six is most important, and is that of the hardening of the hitherto soft steel hook. This is carried on in a specially constructed building, and consists in placing the hooks in a white-heat furnace, watched by an experienced workman, who withdraws them on seeing them attain a certain appearance, and plunges them into a vat of oil. This converts the temper of the hitherto soft hook into a highly brittle condition. Mere description cannot do justice to this stage of hook manufacture.
Seventh--Tempering. The hooks are then taken from the oil, mixed with heated sand, and placed in an iron pan over a fire, sand and hooks being kept in constant motion. Ever and anon, a hook is picked out and tested, and as soon as one lot is deemed sufficiently tempered it is passed to one side and another takes it place.
Of course the experience of the operator dictates the finish of each parcel, and the man is always selected from those of the highest capabilities. The heat required for each size and style of hook varies, and there is all the difference between a hook too hard or too soft.
In the former case, immediately it is struck against the hard jaw of a fish it breaks, either going at the bend or the point. Nothing is more irritating to the fisherman than to find the fish pricked and gone, and the point also minus, and this not discovered possibility till he has hit, and, as he thinks, by some fault of his own, missed the rising fish.
Eighth--Scouring. For this purpose the hooks are placed with water, etc. in oblong barrels, which are kept in motion by steam power from one to two days, thus removing all scale and leaving the hooks ready for the ninth process of polishing.
Ninth--Polishing is performed in two ways. The hooks are placed in an oblong bag, with sawdust, and are rapidly shaken from end to end, until they become quite bright. The other way is to place them in barrels, moving more or less rapidly round on their bases, inclined at an angle of 85 degrees from the perpendicular. It is found that this inclination has a greater more certain effect toward the end in view than an upright or horizontal position would have,
Tenfth——Consists in the application or various methods of protecting the hooks from the corrosive action of water. Japanning—that is, giving the hooks several coats of a specially prepared black Japan; tinning or coating them with tin; rust-proofing, browning, bluing, and coloring them red for worm fishing, or blue, green, yellow, etc., for fly dressing.
One factory alone in England turns out an average of 7,000,000 fish hooks a week.
Nearly all the best known hooks are numbered alike, starting with a hook which measures about 7-16 inch from the point across to the shank and in called No, 1. From that, hooks down to the smallest in common use, No. 15, although one hook is made as small as No. 20, which is 3-16 inch. The larger sizes start from No. 1 and run up in naughts to No. 10-0 and even 14-0, the larger sizes being used for salt water fishing.
Cincinnati bass hooks have independent numbers starting with No. 30, the smallest of which measures 1/4 of an inch and going up to No. 16, which is 13-16 of an inch. Number 24 corresponds with No. 1 in ordinary styles.
The Kinsey is also oddly numbered, ranging from No. 24, the smallest, up to No. 6, the largest. No. 16 corresponds with No. 1 of the common hooks.
-- Dr. Todd